Sitting Legislators Get Donations

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID STEVES The Register-Guard

SALEM - With campaigns in full swing, a handful of legislators collected thousands of dollars in contributions while they were in session - a practice that was illegal until last year.

Since the 1970s, lawmakers and others running for office had been barred from fund raising when the Legislature was in session. But in January 2001, Attorney General Hardy Myers said that law was unenforceable because it violated free-speech protections in the Oregon Constitution.

Out of deference to tradition and concern that voters might look askance at fund raising in the midst of policy-making, Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike voluntarily refrained from soliciting contributions during the 2001 regular session. Legislators also approved a requirement that any contributions accepted while the Legislature was meeting must be reported within 48 hours.

`I think that the citizen legislators are going to look at the practical aspects of this and say, `It's not in my best interest to accept any money during the session,' ' Senate Majority Leader Dave Nelson, R-Pendleton, said during an interview at the time.

But what a difference a year - and a campaign season that's now in full swing - makes.

Seven lawmakers and three caucus campaign committees reported collecting $20,639 when the Legislature was in session Feb. 8-11 and Feb. 25-March 2.

Nelson, who oversees campaigns for the Senate Republicans, took in $604 from the Oregon Building Trades Association on Feb. 28. The contribution went to the Senate GOP's Leadership Fund.

"I think it's a different situation in special session," he said. "The fund-raising letters are already out there, and you can't control when the checks are going to come in."

Sitting legislators weren't the only ones who gathered donations during the two sessions. All six gubernatorial candidates and 16 challengers for legislative seats reported contributions during those periods.

According to disclosure forms filed with the Secretary of State's Elections Division, most of the contributions to sitting legislators were small, $100 or less, and came from individuals who aren't part of Oregon's political scene.

There were some exceptions:

A $10,000 contribution to the Senate Democrats' campaign fund on Feb. 8 from the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribal Council. It operates the Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville.

An $825 contribution to the House Republicans' campaign fund from the Independent Electrical Contractors Association on Feb. 28.

A March 1 contribution of $1,000 from the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon to Sen. Susan Castillo, D-Eugene, for her state schools superintendent campaign.

Among individual legislators, Castillo reported raising the most with $3,725 during the two special sessions: $3,010 from six individuals and the teacher's union and $725 from an undisclosed number of small donations of $50 or less. …